Intended for healthcare professionals


Halve added sugar in diet to 5%, say nutritionists

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 17 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3894
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1The BMJ

People should consume no more than 5% of their total daily energy intake as sugar—half as much as the previous recommendation of 10%, a government advisory group has recommended.1

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommended in a draft report last June that halving sugar intake was necessary to curb obesity and that children and adults should minimise their consumption of sugar sweetened beverages because of an association with type 2 diabetes.2 It has confirmed its recommendations after a period of consultation.

The committee was asked by the Department of Health for England and the Food Standards Agency to examine the evidence on the links between consumption of starch, sugars, and other carbohydrates and fibre and a range of health outcomes, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel health, and tooth decay, to ensure that the government’s position on consumption was up to date.

In its review the committee found that high consumption of sugar was associated with a greater risk of tooth decay and a greater risk of high energy intake. Research also links the consumption of too many high sugar drinks with weight gain in teenagers and children and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The review has kept the recommendation that starchy carbohydrates, whole grain where possible, should form 50% of daily energy intake. But fibre intake should increase to 30 g a day for people aged 16 or over, 25 g for 11-15 year olds, 20 g for 5-11 year olds, and 15 g for 2-5 year olds.

Ian Macdonald, chair of the working group that produced the report, said, “The evidence is stark: too much sugar is harmful to health, and we all need to cut back. The clear and consistent link between a high sugar diet and conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes is the wake-up call we need to rethink our diet.

“Cut down on sugars, increase fibre, and we’ll all have a better chance of living longer, healthier lives.”

However, the recommendation on sugars is a big challenge to the population and the government, as young people and adults already exceed the previous advice to keep added sugar to 10% of energy consumed.

Public Health England is urging parents and families to reduce their intake of sweetened drinks now, ahead of a review that it is due to publish at the end of the summer on what measures the government can take to reduce the population’s sugar consumption. This review will inform the government’s obesity and diabetes strategy.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said, “One fifth of 10-11 year olds are obese and almost two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and sugary drinks are a major contributor. There is nothing good about a sugary drink, particularly if you are under the age of 11, and we must work together to find ways to wean ourselves from the sugar habit.”

While he welcomed the latest report, Simon Capewell, vice president for policy at the Faculty of Public Health, called for a raft of measures to improve people’s diet and reduce obesity, including reformulation of foods by the food industry, controls on marketing of junk foods to children, a tax on sugary drinks, and investment in walking and cycling.

“We need to think of diet as a child protection issue, given the long term consequences to our children’s health of obesity. This report is an opportunity for the UK to show bold political leadership for the health of future generations. We urge the prime minister to be that leader. Our children have waited long enough,” he said.

A recent investigation by The BMJ uncovered evidence of the extent to which key experts on public health, including some members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, are involved with the sugar industry and related companies responsible for many of the products blamed for the high prevalence of obesity.3


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3894



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